Famed civil rights photographer Ernest C. Withers has been revealed as an FBI informant.
Withers, who took the infamous shot of Emmett Till’s body in a casket, has been outed by Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, who conducted a two year investigation into his life.
According to The Appeal, the photographer who worked alongside Dr. King provided the FBI with pictures and detailed information about the schedules and whereabouts of key civil rights leaders.
Speaking to The New York Times, historian Athan Theoharis calls the discovery an “amazing betrayal.”
“It is an amazing betrayal…It really speaks to the degree that the FBI was able to engage individuals within the civil rights movement. This man was so well-trusted.”
In most FBI documents Withers named was hidden and he was referred to as “ME 338-R”, in several documents however, The Appeal says agents forgot to cover his name.
Withers daughter has since spoken out on the allegations and says she’s not convinced.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of this in my life…My father’s not here to defend himself.”
Several scholars including Dr. Boyce Watkins have considered the implications of this discovery, including the fact that Withers was present at the Lorraine Motel at the time of Dr. King’s untimely death.
“The fact that Withers “just happened” to be at the Lorraine Motel at the time of King’s death as well as the fact that he’d gained so much of Dr. King’s trust, makes us only contemplate the unthinkable.”
Withers passed away in 2007 from complications from a stroke.